TeachingEnglish
Designing Business English programmes 2

This is the second article in a three part series.

In the first part we looked at needs analysis and how to define goals and objectives. This second part looks at how we can design a business English syllabus.

Syllabus design
Once the aims and objectives are established you are ready to define a learning plan.

You should be aware that adult learners:

  • want their learning to be relevant to them
  • pay attention to things that will benefit them
  • learn best when they know why they should learn
  • find it easier to learn when you start with what they know before moving to the unknown and when you move from simple to complex.

As a result, the syllabus is usually negotiated with the students and the organization. By discussing these issues with them, you can decide on the main priorities together, you can identify what activities could be done to foster learner autonomy, you can agree on how progress will be assessed and how you will be giving feedback. The syllabus states the actions to be taken in order to achieve the aims and objectives. It lists what is to be covered during the course and states an order.

But you must remember that this syllabus can be re-negotiated at any time. Sometimes, in the middle of a course, a student asks for help because he/she needs to prepare a presentation for an unexpected trip. It usually is a very dynamic syllabus and you need to be flexible enough to adapt to new and changeable circumstances.

Most business English students need to communicate within a certain context, so the syllabus must reflect the discourse they are confronted with. So, if you know your students are in the corporate finance field and usually have to present figures and results in English you will probably have to include the following items in the syllabus:

  • Dealing with numbers and figures
  • Describing trends
  • Corporate finance vocabulary
  • Understanding and producing financial reports
  • Giving presentations

You will also have to decide what learning activities and tasks can be done to help your students develop their communicative competences further, i.e. their linguistic, socio-cultural and pragmatic competences. (You can refer to the Common European Framework for further information on this). You will select the language items the learner needs to know and concentrate on the content and meaning of the interactions. The syllabus can be organized in many different ways, for example around:

  • Topics: Management, Finance, Technology, etc
  • Business skills: Presentations, Negotiations, Meetings, Socializing, Introductions, Telephoning, Writing reports, Writing business letters
  • Tasks: activities students need to do using the language in order to achieve something

It is like a matrix and usually includes:

  • Lexis: idioms, expressions, vocabulary, etc.
  • Functions: agreeing, disagreeing, giving explanations, taking the floor, interrupting, asking for opinions, etc.
  • Texts: examples of authentic written and spoken texts.
  • Grammar: word order, adverbial phrases, if clauses, verb tenses. For example: to describe trends students need to know when to use the present progressive , the past simple or the present perfect.
  • Learning strategies: recording vocabulary, looking for information
  • Intercultural skills: awareness of different cultures

At this stage you also determine the types of assessments that will be carried out.

Assessment
Assessment is crucial for the development and success of the course. You will want to know if your students are satisfied with the course, if they are learning what they need, if the organization can see the return on their investment.

There are many things you can do:

Self-assessment
Most business students are used to conducting appraisals, reviews and self-evaluations. They will feel at ease when making their language self-assessment. By reflecting on their learning processes students can identify their own strengths, and where they need more help from you. They can see their progress and what communicative task they can successfully perform now.

Continuous assessment
This is a regular analysis of the progress of your students. It is conducted informally and constantly. It is more qualitative than quantitative.

Achievement tests
You design them to check if the objectives have been met. You can use objective and subjective test items. Different test items can be included but they should be aligned to how you deliver the course. They can be task based.  

Task-based assessment
When you assess this way, your focus is on the performance of the task, if your students can successfully convey meaning and get their message across. Your students should know in advance the criteria you will use to asses the performance of the task.

Portfolio assessment
If your course has a strong focus on writing, you can specify what and how many samples of different written tasks they need to include in the portfolio, e.g. a report on the company figures, a report on a specific project, a memo about some new policies, a business letter to a client, etc.

External examinations
Some students may tell you they want to take internationally recognized examinations to certify their business English knowledge, or some organizations request them as a way of implementing global language programmes. There are many business English examinations offered by different examination boards. Some tests' scores represent different degrees of success rather than passing or failing grades, e.g. English Language Skills Assessment (ELSA - London Chamber of Commerce and Industry - LCCI ), Test Of English for International Communication (TOEIC - Educational Testing Service - ETS ). Other tests require students to achieve a certain level in order to pass, e.g. Spoken English for Industry and Commerce (SEFIC - LCCI), English for Business (EFB - LCCI), Business English Certificate (BEC - Cambridge). They are available at different levels.

For further reading on syllabus design:


Conclusion

When designing the syllabus it is crucial to negotiate the content and types of assessment with your students. In this part of the article we have looked at what we can include in our syllabus and how we can develop it. In the third part, we will discuss how to select suitable material, some things to take into consideration when delivering the course and how we can evaluate the whole programme.

References

  • A Common European Framework of Reference for Languages: Learning, Teaching, Assessment - Council of Europe (2001) Cambridge University Press.
  • English Next - David Graddol (2006) British Council
  • Curriculum Development in Language Teaching - Jack C. Richards (2001) Cambridge University Press.
  • Second Language Teaching & Learning - David Nunan (1999) Heinle & Heinle Publishers.
  • Teach Business English - Sylvie Donna (2000) Cambridge University Press.
  • How to Teach Business English - Evan Frendo (2005) Pearson Education Limited

 

Mercedes Viola Deambrosis, Director, 4D Content English

Average: 4.7 (77 votes)

Comments

davekees's picture
davekees

The author recommends the Common European Framework for more information on syllabus design. There are some great tables in the CEF which breakdown all of the main aspects of various situational uses of English. 

One thing that cannot be overlooked is developing student interest in the training. Despite the best laid plans of mice and men, often the training turns out to be dry and boring. This is especially so when teaching business people who are working all day and then have their training.

For this, teachers should add variety, suprise, and many forms of media. Too much training is a book, a classroom and a teacher. Not much change since the days of Plato or Socrates (except for the book.) 

Organize the syllabus so that you can take the students to the local IKEA store and talk about sizes and shapes and prices or even sales and marketing strategy, interview a friend on the other side of the world using Skype or some other video/phone, play a boardgame like Scruples, watch a movie at half-speed so that students can follow the dialog easier (Power DVD can do this with no distortion).

In short, make the syllabus an adventure.

Mercedes Viola's picture
Mercedes Viola

Thanks for your contribution.I absolutely agree with you. The English training sessions should be something they enjoy and feel they are profiting from.To do that, you have to get to know what interests them, what topics they like and know about. Nowadays, business people are used to attending enjoyable training courses, we have to follow suit.

zira's picture
zira

Dear Mercedes and AllI liked your idea to use the metaphor for BE courses as 'adventure' very much, but how do you think:Is it appropriate and relevant to your students to know where they will find themselves by the end of the course? In other words, what about learning outcomes of the course? Do you predict them at the beginning of the course?  And are your students aware of them?I think if you predict the expected learning outcomes of the course, it will be easier for you to decide on the assessment criteria and tools to be used for assessment. As the result, the teaching/learning process will become transparent, your students will know the 'port of destination' and enjoy the adventure to it organised by teacher.Ultimately, I share the ideas presented in your article and liked the matrix you've described that resembles the template we've designed.Looking forward to your third article.Best wishesZira 

Mercedes Viola's picture
Mercedes Viola

Hi Zira,Of course our students need to know where they are heading. This is something you need to agree with them before doing anything else. Destination, “why am I doing what I’m doing?” That also helps  a lot in enjoying the adventure.Best wishes,Mercedes  

nikimedia's picture
nikimedia

Thanks so much for your contribution here...I completely agree with you on this and wish more teachers would read this and take this approach.

babelia-formacion's picture
babelia-formacion

Arrived a little late but just wanted to congratulate you Mercedes on an excellent article and very useful references! Thanks!

Mercedes Viola's picture
Mercedes Viola

Thanks for your comment.
Happy to know it is useful.
Best regards,
Mercedes
Arq. Mercedes Viola Deambrosis
Directora
4D Content English
Circunvalación Durango 1429 of. 501
Montevideo - Uruguay
Tel: (598 2) 9161496
www.4d.edu.uy
 

annasiegfried's picture
annasiegfried

My opinion is that in present times that are governed by capitalistic behavior, every person should be able to participiate in such a program because it can only benefit you.

work from home opportunities's picture
work from home ...

Some students may tell you they want to take internationally recognized examinations to certify their business English knowledge, or some organizations request them as a way of implementing global language programmes. There are many business English examinations offered by different examination boards. Some tests' scores represent different degrees of success rather than passing or failing grades, e.g. English Language Skills Assessment (ELSA - London Chamber of Commerce and Industry - LCCI ), Test Of English for International Communication (TOEIC - Educational Testing Service - ETS ). Other tests require students to achieve a certain level in order to pass, e.g. Spoken English for Industry and Commerce (SEFIC - LCCI), English for Business (EFB - LCCI), Business English Certificate (BEC - Cambridge). They are available at different levels.

Ali mohammed Ali's picture
Ali mohammed Ali

Dear Sir/ Madam,
Could you please give me some idea of how to integrate some types of syllabus ( e.g. product/ process- oriented) syllabus?. To focus more on listening and speaking skills, and also incorporting grammar and vocabulary? how to sequence the units and activities? what is a good approach to do that?

your help is highly appreciated

Best regards,
Ali